“Why Can’t People Act Like Adults?” Duh!


Courage is not the absence of fear,

but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.

Ambrose Redmoon



Two weeks ago I guest zoomed with a class of twenty-four Loyola-Marymount students. They are all communication studies majors and their instructor invited me to talk on what’s needed to thrive in the workplace.


Although I enjoy talking with undergrads this time I felt challenged. We’re in the midst of a surreal pandemic and really, what do any of us know?!


Although your undergrad days, like mine, are over, I thought I’d share with you something of what I told them.


I told them that someday, when the pandemic is “over,” much will have changed in the way we go about our lives and our business. And much will stay the same. I was reminded of this about

a month ago when the head of a private high school reached out to me for help.


Sarah and Gail, the directors of two of the school’s most important public-fronting departments, were not getting along. The friction had started way before the pandemic and was escalating during this work-from-home time.

I interviewed them separately and at the end of the conversations each asked me, “Why can’t people just act like adults and do their job?”


Love it! Of course, part of me wanted to ask in return, “why can’t I just win the lottery?!”


I got to thinking – what does it mean to “act like an adult?”

When I wasn’t binge-watching Netflix I grabbed pen and paper and jotted down what people look like when they “act like adults.”


Unlike a child, an adult,

  • Knows a shadow from a real threat
  • Can speak on their own behalf
  • Doesn’t play people off each other
  • Makes informed choices even when uncomfortable
  • Can tell interpretation from fact
  • Resists lies
  • Confidently makes mistakes
  • Knows why and how they’re biased
  • Can appreciate a story
  • Listens generously
  • Is curious how they can help
  • Is willing and able to engage in difficult conversations
  • Has conviction
  • Manages emotions
  • Sustains relationships
  • Knows how to get needs healthily met
  • Knows how to change a diaper (!)


Okay, I know. . .you’re thinking this list does NOT describe so many of the adults you know! Hey, it’s a fast and furious and rather arbitrary list. AND it serves to answer the question, “Why can’t people show up to work and act like adults?” IT’S HARD – that’s why!


There’s more.

Laced through all these traits is the most important trait of all.

An adult can navigate FEAR. An adult exercises emotional courage.


Perhaps I was influenced to select this “adult” can-do trait because we breathe pandemic-related fears twenty-four hours a day. However, since the pandemic roared forth, I’ve had conversations with at least half-a-dozen people, each of whom is each wrestling with fear not pandemic related.


Margaret works for LA County. She has a new boss and new protocols have been put in place for doing her job. She hates the change. She hates her job. And, yeah, she hates her boss. She pouts. She isolates. She plays helpless victim and is subconsciously sabotaging herself. She asked me what she should do.


Simple. She needs to self-advocate. Take responsibility for her career. Begin to plan for a job change. Treat colleagues like colleagues and stop destructive behavior.


After telling her this she became quiet. When I asked what she was thinking, she said, “That’s hard to do. I don’t know if I can do all that.” I asked why she thought she couldn’t do what I suggested. “It’s not fair that I have to change. What if I can’t?”


She had hypnotized herself with the fear of “What if?”


Randy shared that he wasn’t happy with how he delivered a performance review to one of his direct reports. He realized later that he had been a “bit” snarky in some of his comments. I asked what he wanted to do. He said he needed to apologize. And then he sighed. He looked at me and bemoaned, “This is hard to do. I don’t want to look weak.”


He feared being decent would be interpreted as weakness.


Jason came to me because he wanted help improving his public speaking skills. He was already an engaging, smart speaker so I wasn’t sure want he wanted to work on. After taking me on rambling musings about his speaking shortcomings, he owned up to having a crippling sense of being a fraud and that stymied him from engaging clients in the tough conversations he needed to have.


Fearing he was an imposter caused him to censure himself and not say what he knew he had to say.


And those two high school directors? Sarah and Gail were caught-up in a web of power struggles. Each was afraid – of losing power, of not being given credit for what they accomplished, of having the other one receive more validation from the head of school. Ultimately, each was afraid of not being recognized.


I’ve been startled with these and other conversations as I naively thought pandemic fears would trounce all other fears!


And so here’s what I’ve relearned –


There is fear in the midst of a pandemic.

There will be fear when the pandemic recedes.

There will always be fear.

We will never not deal with fear – from events of our own making as well as outside our creating.


Those LMU students wanted to know how to thrive in the workplace. Sarah and Gail wanted to know why people in the workplace can’t act like adults. Well, the abiding truth is that our lives are defined by how we deal with fear.


Each of the people I spoke with, in a moment of quiet, knew what they had to do. In that moment of quiet, each was challenged with an invitation – to choose authenticity or to choose self-deception.


No choice is final.


Not everyone I spoke with chose authenticity.

Change is hard especially when that change means being kind to one self. (That’s another article!)


For now, though, I’d ask you to consider:

  • What are you afraid of?
  • How real is that fear?
  • Is it what you’re really afraid of?
  • What do you really want?


And, hey, can I help you break through that fear?!


When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me,

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Mr. Rogers


Do you want to break through the fear-based thinking that is preventing you

from being influential and heard?


To explore how one-on-one communication skills coaching

can help you present you with enhanced confidence,

contact me at:




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